Stephanie Alison, Camden Children's Fund

We spoke to Stephanie Alison,  to find out more about how they engage with and involve children and young people in decision-making and service delivery.

Camden’s Children Fund was set up in 2001 as part of the Government’s strategy to tackle child poverty and social exclusion for children aged 5-13 and their families. Participation of children and young people in projects to improve their life chances forms a key part of this strategy.

Describe your Role
I have been a Consultation and Participation Officer in Camden since 2002.  I work part-time and support Camden Children's Fund projects to involve children, young people and their parents.  We have involved children in all stages of our projects from planning to evaluation.  We have developed young evaluators, peer research, involving children in recruitment, and a newsletter written by children.  As part of mainstreaming our Children's Fund work I am now supporting the delivery of Camden's Consultation and Involvement Strategy for children and young people.   We want to increase children's participation so I'm looking at how we can involve children in decision-making in Camden.  It would be great to hear what other local authorities are doing or planning.

What makes a good participation worker?
Being able to establish good relationships with children and being flexible to adapt what you are doing to different needs and preferences.  My background in research has been helpful in terms of knowing how to gain the views of children.  Good organisation and planning skills are vital.  Promoting children's involvement and looking for opportunities where children can have a say is an essential part of the role.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Children's participation is often short term or project based and the challenge is to establish long-term sustainable participation opportunities for children.  The increase in consulting and involving children and young people has been very positive.  However, the demands for children's views at short notice without enough time to plan is a barrier to effective participation.  It can feel like children are being asked their views to tick the box rather than out of any true commitment to participation.  Having clearer decision making processes and sharing power would enable children to get more involved in decision-making.

What are the benefits?
Increased confidence and self-esteem have the most impact.  Participation provides many opportunities for developing skills such as communication and working as a team and learning about a range of topics including journalism, design, recruitment, and how a local authority works.  Delivering services that truly meet the needs of children is another major benefit.

What tips do you have for effective participation?
Make time for planning, ensure there are clear aims and make sure children really understand what they are doing.  Use a range of activities to suit different children and take the children's lead by using their ideas.  It's important to have fun too.  Follow up on children's thoughts and suggestions and let them know what happens.

What is effective participation?
Effective participation is involving children in decisions that will affect them and other children.  Effective participation should benefit the children involved as well as the projects and services they are making decisions about.  It crucial not to just ask children what they think but to act on what they say.

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB